Editor's note: This story was written in 2009 and is being republished as the 2012 Olympics near.
If you're wondering how green London is, the answer is very. Two thirds of the U.K. capital is covered in greenspace and water, something quite exceptional for a capital city and a throbbing metropolis.
If you mean how "eco-friendly" the city is, then the answer is: It's getting there, slowly. Mayor Boris Johnson has outlined plans to make London "the cleanest, greenest city on Earth" in time for the 2012 Olympic Games. He has also pledged to reduce carbon emissions 60 percent by 2025, an ambitious aim first brandished by previous Mayor Ken Livingstone.
How will this be done? By retrofitting public buildings to increase energy efficiency, creating bicycle superhighways around the city, switching in low-carbon vehicles for the city's old carbon-spewing buses, and replacing the diesel-charged taxi fleet with electric versions. Though Johnson is sometimes criticized for a lack of coherence in his environmental policies, the green movement in the U.K. and London is here to stay. Here are some of London's green highlights.
Getting around (the green way)
What with the congestion charge, high gas prices and slow-moving traffic, driving around London is not a very amusing way to spend time. Why not use the comprehensive (and mostly efficient) London Tube, or fleet of London buses, instead? Or hop on your two wheels — safety tips and picturesque bicycle routes can be found on the Transport for London, Sustrans and London Cycling Campaign websites. If you must drive, try a car club. Zipcars, City Car Club and Streetcar offer cheap short-term car rental to members (limited fuel, congestion charge and insurance included). And when you need to order a cab, make it a Prius by calling Green Tomato Cars.
Green and open-air activities
London is one the greenest capital cities on Earth, with more than 600 garden squares, 148 parks and gardens, 122 heaths, commons and greens, 16 city farms, eight Royal Parks and even one historic battlefield. And some of these parks have freshwater lidos that open to the public in summer (volatile British weather permitting). There are three freshwater bathing pools on Hampstead Heath, there's a lido and paddling pool in Hyde Park's Serpentine Lake, a boating lake in Regent Park and the oldest purpose-built open-air pool in the city is the Tooting Bec Lido — this pool featured heavily in Guy Ritchie's 2000 film "Snatch."
And for something completely different, contact Insider London to book a place on its cutting-edge Green London tour of innovative, sustainable retails concepts, hotels, buildings and communities. Tours are led on foot and by hydrogen-powered bus.
Photo: Giovanni Dunmall
The best eco-friendly intentions don't always translate into a good dining experience. But Acorn House, whose eco-credentials are beyond impeccable — it recycles and composts most of its waste, has an herb garden on the roof, uses green electricity, never resorts to airfreight, drives with biodiesel within London, and avoids industrial farming, among other things — has managed to prove doubters wrong. The offerings at Konstam are even tastier and still admirably sustainable. Most of its modern European menu is made from produce sourced from within greater London (a way of supporting British farmers and reducing transport-related emissions). If you're on the go and in the colorful Brick Lane area (go on a Sunday when groovy indoor vintage clothing, jewelry and craft market Upmarket takes place), chill out and eat in the refurbished double-decker bus that houses the Rootmaster vegetarian eatery.
One of the best veggie restaurants in London is Saf. If you're staying in London a bit longer, buy your food from one of the many local farmers markets that have cropped up all over town the past few years. One of the largest and most central takes place just off Marylebone High Street on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The only all-organic farmers market in London is held every Saturday in the liberal-leftie organic haven that is Stoke Newington, located in the north of the city.
London offers some of the best eco-shopping in Europe. Content in Marylebone is a beauty emporium where all the creams, perfumes and makeup are certified chemical-free and are gentle both on your skin and the planet. The shop itself is made out of reclaimed objects. In the same vein, treat yourself to organic creams and beauty treatments at the Organic Pharmacy. For sustainably sourced designer homewares, head to Eco-Age in well-heeled Chiswick. Founded by Nicola Giuggioli with the help of his sister, Livia, and her actor husband, Colin Firth, this green-minded lifestyle shop shows that ecologically sound design can also be beautiful.
If you hate excess packaging, bring your own containers and fill them with organic whole foods at Unpackaged. Some of the best fair-trade and organic fashion can be purchased at Equa, near the Angel Tube station in Islington. Sporty U.K. ethical brand and eco-fashion pioneer Howies has a store at 42 Carnaby St., a short walk from Oxford Circus. It's filled with sustainable wood furniture, issues only e-receipts and its window display lights up for only a few seconds at a time.
Last but not least, the award-winning British organic chocolatier Montezuma's makes all its chocolate in Sussex using carefully sourced and fairly traded ingredients. Its unusual and delicious combinations (such as organic chili and lime, or truffles laced with wasabi sauce and spices) are presented in colorful recycled packaging. Buy online or visit the beautiful store in the heart of East London's buzzing Spitalfields market.
The Zetter in trendy Clerkenwell features recycled timbers, eco-friendly paints and its own borehole to conserve water. Plus, it's affordable and the restaurant is highly regarded. On the luxury end of the scale, the Andaz, housed in a 19th-century building behind the Liverpool Street station, has installed several state-of-the-art eco-measures, such as toilets that use 80 percent less water, a controlled boiler system that's cut down fuel use by a quarter, and intelligent lighting systems in guest rooms and public toilets. Its five restaurants and four bars serve many organic and fair-trade products.
More on London:
- Gallery: London unveils its Olympic venues
- London welcomes world's biggest McDonald's
- Want more travel ideas? Check out MNN's database of green destinations
MNN tease photo: Shutterstock